I was a final year PhD student (into the last quarter of year 4) in cancer research (passed my qualifying 2 yrs back) but was let go thereafter due to 'unsatisfactory progress' as my data is not sufficient for a PhD thesis. I have to admit here that I've gradually lost my enthusiasm in the project and kinda burnt up after year 3. I've completed all required modules with a decent GPA (4/5). My supervisor was lenient enough to recommend me to graduate with a MSc instead but am facing some 'cross-deparmental red tape' at the moment to say the least (no news of my MSc transfer after 2.5mths of appeal). I'm in the midst of preparing my CV for future job hunt but decided I should just state my current qualification as a 'BSc'. How should I address this 'failure/ 4-yr gap' in my CV? I have no intention of applying for any academic research jobs but felt it's best that I stay in a relevant field (bio/pharma?). Any advise given would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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    You are forever ABD. Don't worry, there are plenty of people in that camp.
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 2:46
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    I've seen people list "completed coursework in XXX Ph.D. programme at YYY". This would highlight the "completed" part of your Ph.D. and also correspond to your hope of getting this formally recognized as a MSc. Something like: 2009-2010: Completed coursework in ...; 2011-2012: Research work in pursuit of...
    – Jørgen
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 11:28
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    @RoboKaren I accept that the term "ABD" is common in the US, but it's extremely inaccurate. First, it trivializes the dissertation as being just some minor component of the PhD. Second, in this case, the asker also hasn't done sufficient research on which to base a dissertation. Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 12:34
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about writing CVs for non-academic jobs. The Workplace would be a better place. Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 12:35
  • @DavidRicherby I thought the opposite, ABD trivializes the coursework, and basically means "now working on the real stuff." Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 19:19

2 Answers 2


Rule #1 in resume writing is to never lie on your resume. Never, ever, ever. That doesn't mean you're doomed with a scarlet letter, of course.

I had a similar situation in the past, and worked with quite a few people to hammer out the singular line of that issue. It is quite hard to write, and you will want to talk with someone who has resume-reading/recruiting experience to make sure it sounds okay. Make sure you account for all the time you can.

Here's an example:

Mathematics, Department of Mathematics, Foo Baz University, BB, (Performed four years of studies in pursuit of PhD before exiting program) August 2011 – March 2015

B.S. in Mathematics, Department of Mathematics, John Doe University, DD, June 2011

Try to avoid using words with negative connotation, such as "dropped out" or "failed."

Regardless of how you write it, people will ask you about it. However, it's much easier to defend your situation in an interview, especially knowing it's a question that will come up. I basically indicated that I no longer found it reasonable or practical to continue my pursuit of a medical degree and decided to focus on something that I was equally, if not better at, suited for, when I interviewed.

Since I don't know what your situation is regarding your MS, I've left that out, but if you're sure you're going to get it, you can add a line for that saying that it is tentative and to be awarded at a future point for work done during the PhD.


The top answer is already good. I'm providing an alternative that I use. I'm simply declaring the time period instead of the achieved academic degree.

PhD student of Mathematics, Department of Mathematics, Foo Baz University, BB, August 2011 – March 2015

Edit: To make it clearer: you can put "work experience", "studies" and "academic degrees" in different sections of your CV. That way it will be clear, that you have been a PhD student for a long time, but your highest archivement it your Bsc/Msc degree.

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